“If an infant in her mother’s womb is sick, you do not inject into the foetus. You treat the mother. Why don’t we do the same with plants? If we see that a tree is infested with bugs, or leaves seem sick, we attack the tree with pesticides or something. Yet, what it is trying to tell us is that the mother is sick. That is the earth. The soil. Yet that is never where our concentration is. Why?”
We were in my garden, looking at a tree with ill-looking leaves, and I was being educated by Dinesh Suchde, an agriculturist, Gandhian and a persuasive advocate of Natueco Farming.
Natueco Farming tries to follow the system of ecosystem networking that exists in nature, in farming. Its principal focus is the sun and how much energy from the sun can be harvested by tree canopies. Correct canopy management to get the most efficient photosynthesis is a key to the process as is the use of recycling biomass and seeing that the roots that absorb nutrients are healthy and plentiful.
Dineshbhai, originally a Kathiawadi but now farming for over quarter of a century in MP, is an eloquent speaker. “If a tree didn’t need to use its own fallen leaves for biomass and soil, nature would have insured that fallen leaves fell elsewhere, and not under the tree.
So, leave them there. Why do we clear them? They are the best nutrients for that tree.” He gives the example of forests, how they do not need organic fertilizer to survive, nor drip irrigation. They just need to be left alone, without human interference, including in the form of air pollution – an impossibility in today’s polluted world.
Dineshbhai talks of his own farm. “We have been living off the farm for years. In one single year, I harvest 132 different produce from my farm. The only thing I need to buy is salt.”
Working extremely scientifically, measuring soil fertility, the angles of the sun to maximise absorption, plant geometry to see how much a plant requires to spread and how close the next plant can be to maximise output and creating their own humus to mimic that produced by mother earth and the sun, he has a theory on how to feed all Indians, and the world and conserve land at the same time.
According to him and others following this system, all it requires for a family of five to live off the land, and comfortably is a quarter acre of land, something that even small farmers have. By artificially creating the circumstances of creating the perfect soil, something that nature takes several hundred years to do, in a mere four or five months, and then using that with scientific planting patterns and geometry, this can be achieved in a mere three years, with fifty percent of the results showing in the first year itself.
A key factor is in the creation of this humus or amrit mitti as they call it, a combination of well-decomposed black biomass and activated mineral topsoil. Within months of watering and curing, this turns into a crumbly, black, lightweight soil with a huge water-holding capacity. This is what forms, with the correct use of the sun, the backbone of this kind of farming.
A few years ago, while making a film on our food and food habits in the context of lifestyle diseases in affluent India, I came across Pritee Patil, a manager at Port Trust Authority, Mumbai. A follower of Natueco, she had turned the terrace of the building into a verdant and luscious fruit and vegetable producing orchard. And the proof of the pudding indeed was in the eating. The chikoo and pineapple served to us were juicy and very sweet.
Dineshbhai wants to conduct an experiment. He wants about fifty farmers or would-be farmers to buy contiguous pieces of land and to delve into this for three years, measuring not only output by weight but the active ingredients and micro minerals and nutrients in the produce.
For he feels this could be the end of India’s farming and farmer woes, a way out of continuing soil and water depletion, and farmer suicides. I have enrolled as the first “experimentee”. Want to join, anyone?
The writer is a noted danseuse and social activist